Iggy Pop
Photo: Atlantic Records

Iggy Pop Is in a Frenzy on ‘Every Loser’

After more than 35 minutes of masterful music on Every Loser, does Iggy Pop seem to be a winner, a loser, or somewhere between the two? He is true to himself.

Every Loser
Iggy Pop
Atlantic / Gold Tooth
6 January 2023

The word “loser” — denoting someone unsuccessful in life — is in the title of Every Loser and the name of the band that plays on it. But does it describe Iggy Pop? Maybe, if the pop charts are what measure success, but artistically, Iggy’s anything but a loser. He has never had an album crack the top 10 or a single in the top 20, but he’s inarguably one of the most important and influential rock artists of all time. At age 75, it’s shocking that Iggy is not only still alive but also making surprisingly relevant music. This is his most consistent, fully realized album since Brick by Brick (1990). It’s maybe even his best in more than four decades since New Values was released in 1979.

Loser-winner and low-high dichotomies have defined Iggy throughout his career. He grew up in a trailer park but was the brilliant valedictorian of his high school. He smeared himself with peanut butter, cut himself with broken glass, abused drugs, was institutionalized, and hung out with his “Dum Dum” Stooges bandmates. At the same time, his records were produced by sophisticates like John Cale and David Bowie, and on his weekly BBC 6 radio show, he shows off his considerable musical erudition. He’s a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (2010), winner of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2020), and a recipient of the Polar Music Prize (2022).

Since 2003, when he reunited with the Asheton brothers, Iggy has been reliving — in chronological order — the various stages of his career. The remnants of the 1967-1970 Stooges came back together from 2003-2009. Following Ron Asheton’s death, what was left of the 1970-1974 Stooges reunited from 2009 to 2016. After that, Iggy revisited his Berlin period (1976-1978) with the help of Josh Homme on Post-Pop Depression. This new album skips over his 1980s artistic slump and goes right to the Iggy of Brick by Brick.

Like Brick by Brick, Every Loser features Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses on bass and is helmed by a super-producer (Don Was in that case; Andrew Watt in this one). Both records lie somewhere between Iggy’s rawest studio albums (Fun House and Raw Power) and his smoothest work (Blah Blah Blah).

That place between raw and smooth is where pop-punk lives, and it’s no coincidence that Iggy has collaborated with Green Day and Sum 41 in the past. Pop-punk is the topic of Every Loser’s most frenetic track, “Neo Punk”, which features Blink-182’s Travis Barker on drums. It’s fast and ferocious but goes down easy. It’s about the genre’s godfather outlasting many of the punks and keeping pace with the much younger musicians the punk movement inspired. Some of the lyrics are undoubtedly autobiographical: about driving a Rolls Royce, being a Gucci model, and getting rich off his songwriting royalties (thanks to Bowie). Other parts of the song are more aspirational — to date, Iggy hasn’t ever been “triple platinum” or had “a spot on The Voice” — but he deserves those things, and they sound great coming out of his mouth.

After “Neo Punk”, “All the Way Down” completes a powerful one-two punch in the album’s midsection. Following Stone Gossard’s fuzzy, hard-grooving guitar riff, Chad Smith’s frantic drumming carries the verses, and Watt’s muscular bass joins him in propelling the music forward on the choruses. A minute-plus coda featuring a wailing guitar solo by Watt carries the song to a satisfying conclusion. Iggy sings about fighting the high-and-mighty “gods in heaven” with their oil and gold, who put out “phony shit” like “foam rubber Hollywood breasts” to the rest of us, who “boil” in our changing climate and “get old”. 

The lead-off track and first single, “Frenzy”, is another of Every Loser’s appealing, uptempo rockers. Here, Iggy’s full of hate, telling off all the pricks, dicks, and douchebags, in a frenzy for attention, waiting for people to give him “a try” and “shut up and love” him before he’s dead and gone. The lyrics echo something Iggy told The New Yorker in 2019: “To spite those who don’t like me, I want to make 80.” Like “Neo Punk”, this song has a pop-punk edge with a clean sound and a singalong chorus. At its close, the staccato guitar riff builds to a climactic, wah-wah solo from Watt as Iggy repeatedly shrieks the song’s title. 

Aside from Iggy’s commentary about being unable to use drugs anymore, the fourth rocker on Every Loser, “Modern Day Ripoff”, is a throwaway, with a forgettable riff and keyboards aping “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. In a recent interview with Apple Music, Iggy explained that this song was recorded towards the end of the sessions for the album after he started to lose steam. 

In contrast, a number of Every Loser’s poppier, mid-tempo songs are more memorable. “Strung Out Johnny” recalls 1980s synth-driven new wave. Watt and Josh Klinghoffer’s keyboards lead the way, the full-on punk choruses provide extra wallop, and vocoder backing vocals shepherd the song to a smooth landing. The lyrics tell a classic, cautionary tale about drug addiction, one that has been told many times before, but they come off as knowing and meaningful, not trite.

“New Atlantis” is Iggy’s paean to Miami, his home since the 1990s. The city is “lying low” and “sinking slow”, but her “magic” is only growing stronger since people — from “Colombian pushers and murderers” to “American swindlers and Slavic thugs” — are all seeking “love and beauty” there. Like the soft pastels gracing the Art Deco buildings on South Beach, the smooth, melancholy parts of the song stand out: Iggy’s baritone, Klinghoffer’s piano, and Watt’s acoustic strumming and backing vocals. Complementing them are more energetic elements that keep the track moving: Watt’s electric guitar, Smith’s cowbell, and McKagan’s bass (which beautifully doubles Iggy’s vocals).

“Morning Show” wistfully expresses Iggy’s awareness of the loser-winner dynamic as he grows old. Though he has never been popular enough to sell a ton of records, he has always been famous and charismatic enough to appear regularly on talk shows. As Iggy gets ready to be interviewed again, he reflects on his aging and the popularity that has always eluded him. He puts up a front (he’ll “fix” his face before the broadcast and is “crispy on the outside”), but within, he’s in pain (he can’t hide the “hurt” on his face, and he’s “juicy” on the inside, where he cries). Because he’s so old, the future is “hopeless”, which makes each day he has left feel “delicious”. The “clown” he once was is dead, and now, he bleeds “red” on the inside, not the outside. It’s unusually vulnerable, touching stuff. 

Like “Morning Show”, “Comments” is a poignant reflection on Iggy’s career and aging. Again, he’s seeking approval from the public, viewing online comments about him, wondering whether they’re “right”, feeling “cold” as he scrolls through, and looking for a “soulmate” he knows he won’t find there. At the same time, selling his face to Hollywood is “paying good”, probably in a way that his recording career hasn’t. Iggy has appeared in many films over the decades and in advertisements (not just for Gucci but also for Paco Rabanne, Schweppes, Stumptown, Swiftcover, and Orcon).

“Comments” also includes the line that gives Every Loser its name — “every loser needs a bit of joy” — followed by the observation that winners know not to “look back”. Continuing to ponder his mortality, Iggy observes that the problem with life “is that it stops”. For a song filled with deep, dark sentiments, the instrumentation in its chorus is uncharacteristically uplifting, with 1980s synth lines from Klinghoffer buoyed by bright, hi-hat 16th notes played by the late Taylor Hawkins (someone Iggy surely assumed would outlive him).

Difficult to decipher but compelling nonetheless, “The Regency” concludes Every Loser. It’s one of the last-ever recordings featuring Taylor Hawkins, and his star shines brightly here. The guitar and bass are pure Smiths, which makes sense, considering the genesis of this album was Watt’s request for Iggy to guest on a Morrissey record. Regency generally refers to a period when someone other than a monarch is appointed to lead a country because the monarch isn’t able to, but Iggy doesn’t seem to be singing about that.

In the cartoon video for the song, The Regency is a hotel, but Iggy appears not to be singing about that. So, maybe this song is about something else entirely? “There’s a very interesting relationship between the parking business, the banks, and the stadium business,” Iggy told Apple Music in reference to this track. “The real money is in that parking lot. It’s a really big business.” Whatever the term “regency” means to Iggy, this song, like others on the album, addresses his longstanding fight against the powers that be. He battles the fakes and phonies: a “nose job”, a “con job”, a molester, those who fill “cold” stadium parking lots with “victims”, one girl sleeping with a rock star she doesn’t love, and another who “once believed” but now just “winks and spreads her knees.”

After more than 35 minutes of masterful music, does Iggy seem to be a winner, a loser, or somewhere between the two? Maybe his final words on the album provide an answer. “I fought them to a draw,” Iggy sings. “While I’m alive, uncompromised, I’m stepping out the door.” Perhaps Iggy has neither fully won nor entirely lost, but most importantly, he has remained — and will remain — true to himself right to the very end.

RATING 8 / 10